The year was 2000. The American people waited anxiously after a highly contested general election to see who would be nominated as the next president of the United States. It would five long, tense weeks before democratic nominee Al Gore conceded to republican nominee George W. Bush despite gaining almost half a million more votes than his counterpart. In the end, 507 votes in Florida determined who would be president. Only sixteen years later, it happened again. Republican Donald Trump stole the presidency from favorite Hillary Clinton. He lost the popular vote by a massive three million votes. And those are just the most recent examples.
Five times in history, our Electoral College has failed to elect the people’s choice for president. It’s time for it to stop.
The root of the problem isn’t corruption or rigged elections, it’s the Electoral College itself. Today, it may seem like a pillar of our democracy – another jewel in the crown of the founding fathers. In reality, none of the founders really thought it was a good idea. It was simply a compromise, one centered around slavery, to end the frustratingly deadlocked debate about electing the president. The notion that the Electoral College is an essential cornerstone in our democracy is absurd and false. It’s entire existence can be credited to the power struggle between northern “free” states and southern slave states.
The Electoral College was not a good compromise back in the 18th century, and it certainly not a good one today. Designed to protect against faction, the system relied on electors to vote on behalf of the public. These electors, assigned by the states (not the people), were supposed to be educated, moral citizens who would serve as the countries defense against demagogues and philodoxers. That did not happen.
Perhaps they were influenced by George Washington’s dream of nonpartisan America, but the founders overlooked the power of political organization. It was not long before the electors became party cronies, nominated to the position not for their wisdom and morality but for their unwavering party loyalty. The only moral purpose of the Electoral College became a failure. It did succeed, on the other hand, in delegating power to the southern states, effectively extending the institution of slavery into the 19th century.
The failure of the Electoral College even extends to the states. The popular idea that the electoral college balances state power in the election is a pure myth. What the Electoral College does is place the decision of president in the hands of a few swing states, namely Ohio and Florida.
Take the 2000 election previously mentioned. If Al Gore received 508 more votes in Florida, he wins the election comfortably. However, 508 more votes gained in California mean absolutely nothing. They don’t affect the election in any way, shape or form. Same goes the other way. 4.5 million votes in California cast for Bush in 2000 yielded a grand total of 0 electoral points, while Ohio produced Bush 21 points from 2.3 million votes. The Electoral College isn’t protecting the minority, it is consolidating majority on the state level.
The effect this has on campaigns in profound. Candidates avoid non-swing states like their mother-in-law, instead choosing to campaign almost exclusively in a few swing states. In 2016, only 26 states were visited by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. That means 24 states, mainly small, non-swing states, were relegated to spectators, unable to draw the attention of a democratic system that should favor all people. Comparatively, candidates visited Florida 71 times, which, you guessed it, is 71 more times than those 24 states.
Could the Electoral College ever change? Possibly. The idolization of the constitution prevents any major changes to our system, but meaningful reform is possible on the state level without any amendments. States could follow in the footsteps of Maine and Nebraska, which divide their electoral votes according to percent, compared to the winner take all model most states employ. But don’t expect that to happen any time soon. The Republicans owe their current power to the electoral college, and they will not let it go without a fight.